Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within - Review

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

    Unless you've been enjoying a saxicolous lifestyle for the last couple years, you know that Square has been toiling away on a CG motion picture; one the company hopes will change the way that this form of movie-making is considered. Square aimed to make a movie that would be dramatic and suspenseful and fully utilize the computer as an instrument for motion picture production. Does director Hironobu Sakaguchi deliver with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within? Pretty much, and considering the dreck that is polluting the silver screen of late - not to mention game-related dreck - it is definitely a film that you should consider checking out.

    Let's get the obvious question out of the way right now. Yes, the visuals, courtesy of Square's Honolulu studio, are absolutely breathtaking. The character models are incredibly realistic, and there are numerous times, mainly during darker or smokier scenes, when you will forget that you're looking at computer generated images. The motion capture folks have outdone themselves as well, as the characters move with great fluidity, even in the most frenetic situations. The movie's antagonists, the Phantoms, are highly detailed, but it is the human characters that display how far Square has been able to push the visual envelope. Dr. Sid, one of the flick's featured characters, looks fantastic, with his hirsute face and excellent faux wrinkles.

Dr. Aki Ross
Aki "I was in Maxim" Ross  

    There are some minor flaws, though, like lips that don't always accurately recapitulate the natural motion of the mouth, but that is a minor quibble. Then, of course, there is the Thunderbirds-effect, where some of the characters have a plastic sheen to them. This is minimized as much as possible through subtleties such as skin pores, facial hair, freckles and other blemishes, but is occasionally quite apparent. Jane Proudfoot stands out as an example of a character that just looks a little too fake. Odd, considering that there are minor characters that seem more realistic. Backdrops and effects, too, defy belief most of the time but if there is one region that could have used some work it is the CG fire effects, which look a little incongruous.

    Of course, all that gorgeous animation would be for naught if the voices coming out of their CG lips were unbelievable. Thankfully, this is not the case here, as the voice casting and performances are solid. The film features vocal performances by such Hollywood muckety-mucks as Ming-Na Wen, Donald Sutherland and Alec Baldwin as the lead triumvirate of Dr. Aki Ross, Dr. Sid, and Grey Edwards, and also features the capable Steve Buscemi (Neil Fleming), Peri Gilpin (Jane Proudfoot), and Ving Rames (Ryan Whittaker) in supporting roles. The chief human antagonist, General Hein, is played by James Woods in his own inimitable fashion.

Grey Edwards, ready for action!
Grey Edwards, ready for action!  

    As death-threats are not something that I am particularly fond of, I will not expound on story details too much. I will say that Sakaguchi, Al Reinert and Jeff Vintar have presented a tale that is a mish-mash of Aliens with a healthy smattering of the metaphysical ponderings of anime giant Hayao Miyazaki. The story does feel like it has that certain Final Fantasy ambiance, but that could just be a personal take on it. It provides the viewer with a roller-coaster ride with respect to pace, going from introspective or even romantic one minute, to full-on action the next. I was pleasantly surprised to see that despite the somber tone of the film, there is still some humor thrown in for good measure. Despite all this, the story is largely coherent, though there are times when it becomes a little muddled. How the public at large will respond to it is a mystery, but gamers who have delved into Square's interactive offerings will feel quite at home.

    Music is an integral part of RPGs for a lot of gamers, and as such, one would expect Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to continue the aural heritage of the series. Square has decided against using one of its game music composers, and instead enlisted the talents of Elliot Goldenthal. While befitting of the motion picture, the score is nothing extraordinary. In fact, there are a couple recurring musical themes that border on tedious after the umpteenth appearance during the course of the film. Still, it gets the job done, not wholly without success, and serves as a good barometer of the onscreen atmosphere.

    As with all events that are subject to a media blitzkrieg, expectations are high for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The finished product is a brave foray into mature CG movie-making, and it is largely successful. Fans of the hugely popular franchise will find much to enjoy, and non-fans will find a solid science fiction tale that tries its best to innovate in an industry that is all too subject to mediocrity. Proceed with confidence to your nearest multiplex.

by Alex Wollenschlaeger    
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